Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Objectified - documentary film review

The other night I watched Objectified, a documentary by Gary Hustwit, the director of Helvetica. (I have yet to see Helvetica but - as a font freak - I hope to soon.) Although I found Objectified to be a bit slow at times, I would recommend it to anyone interested in commercial product design.

In the film, several designers, mostly European, share their creative processes behind determining what form “objects” designed and manufactured for the masses should take. Turns out, the form of an object often bears no relation to its function That was one of the more interesting ideas briefly explored in this film. While watching Objectified, I often felt it cried out for more product history. I guess I would have preferred a broader scope to the film. I especially enjoyed the insights of Alice Rawsthorn, Design Editor at the International Herald Tribune, and segments with designers at Smart Design in New York and Apple in California. I loved seeing a peek of groups of designers mind-mapping in an effort to explore new and innovative directions.

Isn’t it interesting to take a step back and consider the story behind the objects we surround ourselves with in daily life? The fact that virtually every object we encounter has been “designed”? This film is certainly thought-provoking in that regard. As consumers, we have so much available to us that seems to have been brought to market with far less than adequate thought. Furthermore, as Ms. Rawthorn’s states, “Designers spend most of their time designing products and services for the 10% of the world’s population that already own too much - when 90% don’t have even basic products and services to lead a subsistent life”. Words to give any viewer pause.

In general, I feel fed up with the consumerism of American culture. At the same time, I am an active participant in at all. I don’t quite know how to extricate myself from it. You see, I want newer and fresher just like everyone else. That said, I have a vastly more critical eye when it comes to making a purchase of any kind today, then I did even a few years back. I am trying to forego the non-essentials and consider more carefully the implications of selecting a particular version of what I consider an essential product. I want good design. I want to use and own products that improve with time - objects that I will become increasingly fond of and will want to pass on to my children because they reflect my true personal narrative.

Objectified concludes with brief discussion of the challenge of sustainability facing every area of design. Good design today is different from what it used to be. Designers cannot simply select materials based exclusively on their design attributes. Even building my little business, Spool + Sparrow, I am constantly confronted with the sustainability challenge; It’s a guiding principle, actually. Every aspect of Spool + Sparrow - from sourcing materials, production, shipping and disposal of my creations at the end of their usable lives - hinges on sustainability. I am ever mindful of the fact that I am not carbon neutral. My products are not exclusively organic. I am sourcing materials outside of my own city and shipping across the country and internationally. But that’s a topic for another day. Before straying too far from my review, I’ll just say that this film offered a lot of personal relevance for me. I hope others will watch it. We might all reconsider our personal definitions of good design.

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